Spinal Decompression through Position and Breathing
by Jim Mulroy, PT
Glendale Physical Therapist

Did you know that you can use deep diaphragmatic breathing to decompress your spine to help relieve pain?
We all live with some form of spinal compression caused by gravity, ground reaction forces, ligaments, and muscular contractions. When a person stands upright, the lumbar spine can compress up to 55% of our body weight.

Compression of the spine can lead to an increased incidence of degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and nerve root impingement. Compression of the spine is often manifested as dysfunctional posture, restricted spinal movements, and chronic pain.

Positioning your spine to minimize gravity and inhibiting muscles that are constantly creating compressive forces on your spine is a simple way to decompress the spine on your own. There are some basic concepts to understand in order to decompress your spine for pain relief, improved posture, and better health.

First, most people begin with an excessive back arch in their spinal posture. This usually shows a forward tilted pelvis with increased mid to lower spine muscles and hip flexor tone (constantly increased muscle tension and contraction). These muscle groups “pull” your pelvis down anteriorly and increase compressive force in your thoracolumbar spine. Stretching and inhibiting these muscle groups help to alleviate the “pull” on your pelvis and the compression on your spine.

Secondly, deep diaphragmatic breathing coupled with abdominal core activation help to inhibit those restricted thoracolumbar paraspinals and pull down on your flared ribs to help create superior (top down) decompression of your spine.

When these two concepts are combined into action, decompression of your spine is much more effective. There are a number of different exercises and activities to address the forward tilted pelvis and flared ribs to create better alignment of your posture and decompress your spine.

Postural Restoration recommends the 90/90 hip lift. This activity places your lower extremity in a posterior pelvic tilt position (90/90) with hamstring activation to inhibit your hip flexors and start to reposition your pelvis out of an anterior tilt. The 90/90 position coupled with deep diaphragmatic breathing “pulls” your ribs down and in to create an upward traction force to your thoracic (mid-back) spine and also inhibits the restricted thoracolumbar paraspinals. Spinal decompression is induced from top and bottom. The 90/90 hip lift helps to decrease pain and tissue restrictions in your spine, and will start the process to improve joint mobility and alignment of your spine and pelvis.

If you are interested in learning more about postural restoration or diaphragmatic breathing, please schedule an evaluation with me at our Glendale location.